Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mayer Hawthorne

I'm sure many people know the experience of a significant other and their favorite band/singer etc. Well for me, I didn't really until I started seeing someone a little over a year ago. My girlfriend's favorite musician of all-time is Michael Nesmith, and her favorite band more or less of all-time is The Monkees.

But being that she is a music-head like myself, she has plenty of other favorites. And I'm not sure how long it has been, but at least within the last year, her favorite modern artist is this new Blue-Eyed Soul singer/songwriter/dj etc Mayer Hawthorne.

Now, I checked out Mayer's music out last year, specifically his new record How Do You Do, and while I didn't find it bad, I also didn't hear the genius behind it like she did. For one, his vocals at times, almost sounded like Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers. Which, I don't hate, but again, don't find a lot of motivation to go back to.

But in hearing more of his music, and revisiting some of the How Do You Do tunes, I suppose that specific side to his sound, is limited.

Last Fall, my girlfriend attended the concert at First Ave in Minneapolis that Mayer Hawthorne opened for Chromeo, another band she recently got into. Not as much as Mayer, but definitely one that I continue to hear around her, and also not a band I mind, but also don't find addictive up to this point.

Following that concert, she kept reminding me how it was the best show of the year, and how I missed out. And I did feel bad for missing it, but I sort of was having to pick and choose between something like 6 shows in 10 days, and it ended up being one of the shows I skipped in that short window of time.

She talked about how great Mayer was, how everyone danced, and how Mayer requested they dance, otherwise they didn't have any business coming. And later, she got to meet him not once, but twice at his Merch Booth. Including mentioning to him how I couldn't make it, lol. I suppose that part sort of hit me worse than missing the show.

So, the next time he came here, I really had NO CHOICE but to attend. And that show was last Friday evening, at First Ave again. A concert, a bit like the recent Gotye/Kimbra concert in Minneapolis at Epic (moved from The Varsity Theater), where the demand for tickets got so big, it had to move venues, from The Fine Line to the Mainroom at First Ave.

Luckily, I and my girlfriend (along with a good friend of hers) purchased tickets to this show right when they went on sale in February. Because this show sold out pretty fast, largely in part to the nature of radio stations like 89.3 and Cities 97, pimping it and a few of Mayer's singles to their hipster (sheep-ish) audience.

The crowd demographic reflected that to a large extent, as in observing the difference from the concert last fall, the people who went to the show on Friday night were not the R&B/Soul/Dance loving crowd that apparently were at the show last Fall. Which, I suppose ultimately shouldn't matter, as long as the concert and performance of the music is good. But sadly, Mayer has become Hipster to extent, so much so, I told my girlfriend about how I was reminded of the experience where "my little band isn't MY band anymore" with the likes of Local Natives and Warpaint to an extent.

And Mayer actually never came out to meet the fans, as far as we knew, after the show. Why? My girlfriend and I could only guess due to time. In fairness, we didn't hang around for hours; but it definitely seemed a little different from the other shows she had seen him.

The show itself though, I'd say more than lived up to the hype and expectations. His songs and namely his BAND are really worth the price of admission. They are a very TIGHT group live. The grooves were groovier, the playing is rather energetic, and Mayer does play to the crowd quite well. Although it's noteworthy how at times, he does sound like the DJ he is, just in his voice and vernacular.

But he's Caucasian, and perhaps even Jewish, 2 things I share in common with him among others, which is an ongoing (and maybe always will be) thing to smirk about with my girlfriend. Although she connects with him in a number of things as well, outside of his music; such as Thrift Store shopping, Food exploration and his love of Vinyl/Vinyl shopping. Along with just his background with music and love of Soul and R&B. Including for example Hall & Oates, another Blue-Eyed Soul Artist, whom Mayer covered "You Make My Dreams Come True." And I'll fully admit, I thought was a Billy Joel tune when I heard Mayer go into it, but I was of course corrected immediately by my girlfriend. Although, I'm pretty certain Billy Joel has a tune that is rather similar to it, but I can't come up with at the moment.

I'd surmise this show only had maybe 2 or 3 songs that lost me, which I believe were ballads. But even some of the ballads eventually I ended up enjoying. I more or less concluded Mayer Hawthorne is a superior live performer, than his studio work. Although I probably need to revisit his recordings again, after enjoying this show as much as I did.

He even performed what sounded like a new tune, that sounded like one of the lyrics in the chorus were "I'm on Fire." In glancing at a set list, the song I'm thinking of may have been the single "Love in Motion" by an artist named Sebastian, Mayer was featured on last year. It seemed to be funkier than anything else of the evening. I told my girlfriend, it almost sounded like Prince's song "Kiss" at times.

Although I'm not certain the track with the lyrics which sound like "I'm on Fire," may not have been another tune. But among the set list posted below, that's the only song not on either of his LPs.

Mayer is not Prog, nor Metal of course, and not really College-Rock either. Yet, he does seem to blend a bunch of styles simultaneously, without ripping any artist off. He receives the 60's Soul or Motown tag a lot, and he is from Detroit originally, so that almost makes sense. But there's also something uniquely modern about his songs.

I suppose he's pulling off, in some different ways, what Pepe Deluxé, Janelle Monáe, Kimbra and some others are, by paying homage to his elders and older influences, but still not sounding exactly derivative.

Plus the songwriting along with his band, are things that make his music more endearing to me, and why I can't avoid saying I'm looking forward to not only seeing him live again, but what he records next. Perhaps he'll even collaborate with some of them; Janelle I know he's a fan of anyway.

This is a set list taken from the Detroit show last Tuesday, and I'm pretty sure this is nearly the same (if not the same).

You Called Me
Make Her Mine
Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'
The Walk
One Track Mind
Love In Motion
No Strings
Shiny & New
You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall & Oates)
A Long Time
Finally Falling
Green Eyed Love
A Strange Arrangement
Just Ain't Gonna Work Out
The Ills

Maybe So, Maybe No
Henny & Gingerale

"Henny & Gingerale" may have been the biggest highlight of the show, as I and I imagine many others in the crowd, kind of felt we didn't want it to end. We wanted Mayer to stay and perform longer. That is one of those great live tunes, where all the band members got to jam a bit (but not excessively), so much so, I think it could have gone on for 10 or 20 minutes and not felt too long. The flow of it just works incredibly well live.

Mayer claims First Ave is his favorite venue in America to play, and I get the sense he may enjoy coming to play in Minnesota, more than some other towns. A bit like Fair to Midland perhaps in that sense. Why? maybe our History with Prince, The Time and the recent hip-hop scene here. He even has come and DJ-ed at First Ave, as that is actually his background. And it wasn't a tour, but just a one-off event of sorts I guess.

But depending how big he gets, and how much 89.3 and the Hipsters latch on to him, it may dictate how eventful his shows will become. We'll see if the *new-ness* factor wears off and maybe his crowd goes back to being more Soul fans like my girlfriend, and less flavor-of-the-month groupies that seemed to be the jist of the population on Friday night.

It's also probably worth adding The Stepkids opened, and were actually pretty interesting. They had a rather surreal, trippy color/lighting background, sort of in the Pink Floyd or you name your psychedelic/dreamy/space-rock approach. I was reminded of a few groups in watching them, namely The Besnard Lakes and School of Seven Bells and White Denim (the last bluesy/riffy/jammy tune especially). And I think seeing them in the settings I've seen those other groups I mentioned, where it may be more intimate and less spread out, might enhance how dreamy/trippy of an effect their music could have live. If they comeback and play say The Turf Club or Triple Rock, I'll definitely be interested to see them in a smaller environment.